Tools for safe and sustainable artisanal fishing

We're contributing to accurate and accessible marine forecasts along with local scientists and fishers for safer and sustainable fishing.

Overview

Accurate, accessible and actionable forecasts can reduce weather-related accidents in fishing, the world’s riskiest job. Along the southwestern coast of India inhabited by poor artisanal fishers, such accidents are frequent during the monsoon season (June – September) when high wind and large waves make fishing in the Arabian Sea risky.

Working closely with the India Meteorological Department (IMD), Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), Kerala State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA), and Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT), this project explored ways to improve forecasts by studying:

  • local hazard risks
  • the decision-making process involved in fishing; and
  • ways to coproduce risk communication with fishers and forecasters.

The project considered ways to enhance the relevance, accuracy and uptake of risk communication and looked at three dimensions of the socio-ecological systems of artisanal fishers - marine weather, risk culture, and challenges to sustainability. Practically, the project addressed safety issues and challenges and offers solutions in line with international best practices, including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries.

Based on this research, follow-on project to establish a Localised Coastal Weather Information Service for artisanal fishers in Kerala (India) was funded by SSRP. 

Project description

The project contributes to accurate and accessible marine forecasts made and shared with local scientists, officials and artisanal fishers for safer and sustainable fishing. It combines the rich traditional knowledge of the fishing communities and scientific observations to understand climatic and environmental hazard risks and vulnerabilities of artisanal fishers, and their risk culture. Based on this knowledge, this interdisciplinary research initiative developed and tested a set of ICT tools and messages for effective risk communication.

Methodologically, it explores novel means to enhance resilience, safety and sustainability of artisanal fisheries. It mapped fish stock and fishers' journeys, and measures ocean state and weather parameters using situ stations and satellite data, and combined it with ethnography to understand local risk cultures and co-produced a risk communication model. 

The proposed field site is coastal Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, South India, home to over 30,000 artisanal fishers in 42 villages and hamlets, known for their inexpensive wooden rafts, canoes and small boats. They often go far offshore without navigation, radio communication or safety gadgets. During the season, sudden weather changes, heavy rain, strong wind and rough sea often lead to fishers losing coordinates, straying into shipping channels and running out of fuel or developing boat engine snags. In the absence of accessible marine weather forecasts, a culture that encourages risk-taking adds to the problem. Accidents are frequent, especially during the rough-sea monsoon season. Cyclone Ockhi in November 2017 left over 120 fishers from the district dead or missing in the worst disaster of recent times.

The project provided a scalable model to reduce risks involved in artisanal fishing, contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on food security, environmental conservation and community development.

Timeline and funding

Timeline

January 2018-December 2018

Funding

SSRP funding (£69,985)

Methods

On the coast of Thiruvananthapuram district in Kerala state, we selected two fishing villages – Anjengo and Poonthura. We tracked five small (30 – 34 feet) boats in each village and logged their fishing trips for 120 consecutive days, covering the monsoon season of 2018. We compared this data with forecasts, instrument observation of wind and waves, and 20 interviews and 8 focus group discussions with local fishers.

Findings

  • Fishers seek and use multiple forecast sources even when they are not always easily accessible. Forecasts, however, are often generic and inadequate. The fishers compare forecasts with their traditional knowledge and direct observation of the sea and the sky to decide when to go fishing.
  • Up to 72% of the forecasts issued are accurate. While forecasters do not miss major weather events, they often issue false alarms, restricting fishing.
  • Fishing decisions seem to be driven by the availability (and scarcity) of fish more than anything else; and fish are abundant on some days during the monsoon season.

Conclusion

The findings are relevant to overlapping Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In uncertain weather, fishing is risky or restricted, with impacts on local livelihoods (SDG 1: No Poverty) and food security (SDG 2: End Hunger). As fish stock is depleted in the coastal waters (SDG 14: Ocean Conservation), fishers take multiple risks anyway by going offshore in bad weather.

We recommend accurate, local and timely forecasts over multiple channels (such as mobile phones, the Internet, and VHF/FM radio), backed by better weather observation networks and systems (SDG 13: Climate Action) to help fishers make informed decisions.

Forecasters and fishers need to interact closely to share experiences, knowledge and challenges they face. Such co-production of weather knowledge can contribute to better forecasts for safe and sustainable fishing (SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth).

The team

Where we worked

Thiruvananthapuram, India.


Follow-on project

Forecasting with Fishers: Turning research into a means  for safe and sustainable livelihood of artisanal fishers in south India

Building on two years of GCRF/UKRI-funded research, this mulidisciplinary project supports the establishment of a Coastal Weather Information Service for artisanal fishers in Kerala (India). Developed in collaboration with the Government of Kerala, the India Meteorological Department and the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services, such a service will provide fishers with accurate and actionable localised daily weather forecasts which will increase the safety of fishers and improve the income of fishing households.

  • Project description

    Since 2020, a multi-disciplinary research team led by Prof Osella (School of Global Studies) and Dr Howland (School of Engineering and Informatics) has conducted research in coastal communities in south Kerala with the objective of exploring new ways to produce and communicate localised and reliable weather information which artisanal fishers require to fish safely. The research is the outcome of collaboration between Cochin University for Science and Technology (CUSAT) in Kerala, India, and the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK, with the scientific support of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) and the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS).

    Climate change has made weather patterns on the southwestern coast of India unstable and unpredictable, leading to more accidents at sea, often with casualties. Existing IMD weather forecasts cover an area of the ocean too wide to be useful to traditional fishers for effectively planning to fish safely within 35km from the coast, where they usually go. There is clear evidence from the project team's research that artisanal fishers will immensely benefit from a Localised Weather Information Service that will allow them to manage potential risks, and prepare for fishing under hazardous conditions, thus increasing their safety at sea.

    Over 180,000 artisanal fishers are active in Kerala while 50% of fishing householdremain below the poverty line. Combined with fluctuations of fish stock,the growing uncertainty of weather has reduced fishing days available, reducing the income of fishing households. The necessity to secure an income and the unpredictability of fishing often force artisanal fishers to choose between safety and income. The team's current research demonstrates thatby allowing fishers to maximise their fishing in a safe and sustainable environment, the establishment of a Localised Weather Information Service will improve the livelihood and income of fishing households.

    By developing a Localised Weather Information Service, the project addresses the gap between what weather forecasters produce and disseminate, and what artisanal fishers recognise as relevant and actionable information for decision-making. Access to trusted and actionable forecasts helps fishers make informed decisions to go to sea or not under hazardous weather conditions, thus reducing the risk of potentially life-threatening accidents at sea, and loss of craft and gear. By building resilience against weather-related hazards, the project outlines pathways for climate change adaptation and contributes to secure and sustainable artisanal fishing livelihoods in India and elsewhere in the Global South.

    Objectives

    • Establish in consultation with IMD and the Ministry of Earth Sciences an appropriate legal framework for the delivery of Coastal Weather Information Service by the Fisheries Department of Kerala
    • Develop with IMD and INCOIS a protocol to produce localised and customised weather information tools based on ensembles of existing forecasts
    • Enhance the range and accuracy of WRF-based tools for the production of small-grid weather forecasts, and refine appropriate communication tools and protocols in collaboration with CUSAT

    These activities will support setting up a Localised Weather Information Service for artisanal fishers funded and run by GoK via Fisheries Department. It will be piloted for one year by extending the experimental production of localised forecasts to the entire coast of Thiruvananthapuram. The pilot will also devise and test appropriate structures to involve traditional fishers in the co-production and communication of forecasts, as well as in the running of the service itself. After extensive testing, the service will be extended to the whole coastal Kerala.

    Methodology

    In order to respond to traditional fishers’ needs, the research team devised, tested and validated new tools to produce accurate localised marine weather forecasts. Scientists at CUSAT and Sussex devised a 3-tier approach to provide traditional fishers with tailor-made weather forecasts. Based on data from various agencies, the research team produced and tested:

    i) 7-day weather outlooks for the entire Arabian sea;

    ii) 3 days-forecasts for the Arabian Sea off Kerala coast;

    iii) daily high-resolution localised forecasts for fishing areas along the Thiruvananthapuram coast.

    At the same time, the team also tested different means to communicate localised weather forecasts and to make them accessible to the largest number of fishers. 

    Artisanal fishers’ response to a localised daily coastal weather forecast has been extremely positive, with a demand for continuous provision of such an information service. Responding to this request, the research team has been negotiating with the Fisheries Department of the Government of Kerala (GoK) for establishing a Coastal Weather Information Service to provide accurate and actionable weather forecasts throughout the year. This service will be delivered by GoK, based on forecasts produced by the CUSAT/Sussex team alongside IMD and INCOIS.

  • Sustainable Development Goals

    This project examined the following SDGs:

    SDG 1 – No Poverty
    SDG 2 – Zero Hunger
    SDG 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth
    SDG 13 – Climate Action
    SDG 14 – Life Below Water

    Find out more about the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

  • The team

    Principal Investigator

    Co-Investigator

    In-country Partners

  • Timeline and funding
    Timeline

    April 2022-July 2022

    Funding

    SSRP funding (£19,800)

  • Where we worked

    Kerala, India.